September 21, 2018

Rabbi Aaron Panken – A huge loss to our movement and the Jewish people

This weekend, Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, was killed in a plane crash and this tragic death has stunned the Jewish world.

Aaron was a mensch, a scholar, a gentle man, husband, father, son, and brother. At age 53, the words of the Book of Samuel immediately come to mind – “Eich naflu hagiborim – How the mighty has fallen.”

Since becoming President of HUC-JIR four years ago, Aaron carried forward the work of the Reform movement’s starship educational institution with intelligence, gentleness and kindness, and with insight and vision about the future of liberal Judaism in America and Israel. He led the four campuses of HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem. In the last year, Aaron ordained the 100th Israeli Reform Rabbi. He was set to ordain the graduating senior class this week at the American campuses.

He is being mourned widely as a scholar, mensch, and friend. His death is a huge loss to the Reform movement and the Jewish people.

My sympathy extends to his wife, Lisa Messinger, their children Eli and Samantha, his parents Beverly and Peter, his sister, Rabbi Melinda Panken (Glenn Cohen) and their family, his father-in-law Martin E. Messinger, and his sisters-in-law Daryl Messinger (Jim Heeger), Rabbi Sarah Messinger (Rabbi Jeff Eisenstat), and Alice Messinger and their families.

Funeral services will take place on Tuesday, May 8, at 1:00 pm at Westchester Reform Temple, 255 Mamaroneck Road, Scarsdale, NY.

A live webstream of the service will be available on the WRT website at www.wrtemple.org

Even as we mourn the loss of our colleague, teacher, and friend, the vision that Rabbi Aaron Panken brought to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion remains a source of hope and comfort to those who mourn and the Jewish community. Rabbi Panken’s family requests donations in his memory be made to help fulfill Aaron’s vision for his beloved HUC-JIR at huc.edu/memorial or by mail to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, One West Fourth Street, New York, NY 10012.

Messages of condolence to the Panken family may be sent to:

Lisa Messinger and the Panken Family
8 Stonewall Lane
Mamaroneck, NY 10543

May Rabbi Aaron Panken’s family find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.